Similarities between Ryan Villopoto /Mike Alessi and Adam Cianciarulo / Cooper Webb?
Lately, I have noticed a lot of people drawing a comparison between the Ryan Villopoto / Mike Alessi paradigm to that of Adam Cianciarulo and Cooper Webb. This made me wonder - is it actually a worthy comparison? Are there really that many similarities in their careers?
For my criteria for analysis, I chose to look at their respective careers at the prestigious annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship races at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, as well as in the support classes of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross and Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship series.
Alessi was arguably one of the most dominant motocross minicycle racers. He took home 11 titles from the Ranch between 1994 and 2004. Villopoto’s time at Loretta Lynn’s was much less successful. He was only able to capture one title in seven years of racing at Loretta Lynn’s from 1999 to 2005.
Cianciarulo followed the footsteps of Alessi very closely, taking 11 titles between 2002 and 2012. Webb had a little more success at the ranch than the now retired Ryan Villopoto did, wrapping up four titles in his ten years at the Ranch. Like Cianciarulo, Webb raced Lynn’s from 2002 to 2012.
While the number of titles is important, a much more accurate comparison of relative success is how these groups of riders fared while competing against each other in the same classes.
Alessi and Villopoto raced each other in nine different classes at Loretta’s Ranch. Alessi dominated this battle winning eight of the nine face-offs. This is where things start to get interesting.
Webb bested Cianciarulo in five of the eight classes they contested against each other. So, while Adam will go down in the history books as being a more-prolific winner at Loretta Lynn’s ranch, Cooper managed to come out on top more often when the pair raced together. I am not excluding DNFs or injuries because keeping a bike together and staying healthy is an important skill in racing.
Alessi started his professional racing career a year earlier than Villopoto. Alessi raced the last two races of the 250 Motocross series in 2004, but his first full season was in 2005. Alessi finished third in the 2005 125cc MX series and was battling for the championship down to the very last race at Glen Helen, where the following infamous Alessi / Ivan Tedesco takeout incident occurred.
Villopoto made his pro debut at the last three races of the 2005 season, in which he rode very well, including finishing on the podium of both Glen Helen motos. 2006 was Villopoto’s first full pro season and the two amateur prodigies went to war against each other.
Villopoto best Alessi in the motocross series for the first time in 2006, winning the title by a 483-448 margin over second place Alessi who started the series’ by winning the three opening motos. Ryan won six overalls, while Mike only managed to win one—the opener at Hangtown).
In 2007, Alessi moved up to 450cc class for the motocross series; Villopoto remained in the 250cc class, where he won titles in 2007 and 2008. This is where things become a little more difficult to analyze and compare to Cianciarulo and Webb.
A stomach issue caused Cianciarulo to miss the first four races of the 2013 Motocross series, which derailed his pro debut. Webb’s pro debut was full of ups and downs and he finished ninth in the series for 2013.
In the eight outdoor races they rode together that season, Cianciarulo was able to beat Webb in five of them. During the 2014 East Coast Supercross series, Cianciarulo suffered a season ending injury at Toronto that left him sidelined throughout the Motocross series.
The 2014 Motocross series saw Cooper Webb really come into form. He won one overall, and finished third in the series.
Both riders plagued by injury during the 2015 Motocross series. Cianciarulo made it through the first six races before getting injured and he finished on the one podium once. Cooper missed four races after the Hangtown opener, but managed to pull off two wins after returning from injury. Although Webb’s season was much more successful than Cianciarulo’s, in the four motos they raced together (Hangtown and Budds Creek; Rounds 1 and 6), Cianciarulo went 8-11-8-2, while Webb went 3-37-6-14. The pair each bested the other twice—a draw, with only two podiums between them.
Alessi and Villopoto’s rookie 250cc Supercross season in 2006 was filled with excitement. At the end of their West regional series, Villopoto prevailed; finishing third with Alessi ending the series in fourth, behind Andrew Short and championship winner Grant Langston.
In nine races, including the East/West Shootout, Alessi beat Villopoto in five times, and both had three podiums. However, only Villopoto notched a victory. This was the only season of 250cc Supercross in which they would compete against each other.
In 2007, Alessi rode East series, finishing eighth overall in his last season on the 250cc bike. Villopoto, in his sophomore year in the 250 class captured the 250 West Supercross title. In 2008, Villopoto battled Trey Canard for the title. When the smoke settled at the climactic final round in St. Louis, Canard won the war with Villopoto, who trailed Canard by 10 points at the end.
Cianciarulo’s 250SX Supercross career has been plagued with injuries. In his first campaign for a title in 2014, Cianciarulo suffered a season-ending crash in Toronto, after scoring three wins and a pair of seconds in the season’s first five 250SX East Mains. Cianciarulo still finished fifth overall, despite only completing only five races that season.
Webb has really hit his stride in Supercross. In 2014, Webb finished fifth overall, scoring two podiums during the season. Cooper shocked the SX world in 2015; during the 250SX West series, he won six of eight races. In 2016, Webb is involved a see-saw battle for the championship with Joey Savatgy. Cooper has four wins this season, with two-time winner Savatgy trailing by 10 points with two rounds remaining.
My final conclusion from the data is that the paradigm doesn’t really fit both groups of riders. Webb was able to beat Cianciarulo much more often at Loretta Lynn’s than Villopoto did against Alessi. However, the tide turned in the Alessi/Villopoto story during their 2006 West Coast Supercross battle. From then on, momentum was very much on Villopoto’s side.
Villopoto went on to be one of the most decorated 450SX Supercross riders with 41 wins in the class, while Alessi has never won a Main in the premier division.
Webb and Cianciarulo have been much more evenly matched, than were Villopoto and Alessi. It is worth nothing that Cianciarulo has suffered many more season-disrupting injuries than Alessi or Webb.
The one way this paradigm does appear to fit is that Alessi and Cianciarulo were the more successful riders at the Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, but both have failed to secure championships since entering the professional ranks, while their rivals have gone on to earn #1 plates. For Cianciarulo, his career arc may be determined by his ability to rebound from previous injuries and avoiding accumulating more injuries in the future.